As Election Day looms, municipal workers and some Anchorage voters will notice changes amid COVID-19 concerns

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With Anchorage's Election Day looming, election officials are set to work at the Municipality of Anchorage Election Center this weekend, opening and separating ballots from their envelopes.

They and voters from across Anchorage, particularly those who utilize accessible voting centers, can expect some changes in the way things are done during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have a plan, and it's a very extensive one," Municipal Clerk Barbara A. Jones said over the phone Friday, adding that many protections are in place to help workers and voters stay safe and healthy. "Election time can be stressful, but this is our fourth vote-by-mail election in Anchorage, and I think we are well-equipped."

Guidance from local health officials as well as the Centers for Disease Control was distributed and is being followed for this year's election process, Jones said, with an array of new policies in place. A campaign to get voters to use methods other than licking to seal ballots has also been pushed.

"The State of Washington started the 'Healthy or sick, please don't lick!' campaign," Jones said. "When the campaign came up, the CDC was lukewarm about it, but we liked it and think it's a good idea.

"If there is danger, we're protecting people," she said. "If there is no danger, it doesn't make any difference."

So, she said, please don't lick envelopes. Instead - whether or not voters are sick - use alternative means such as dabbing the adhesive seal with a damp towel, using a glue stick, or using an envelope moistener.

Accessible voting centers are where people are most likely to notice big changes, Jones said, as five of six of them are closed, with only the one at Anchorage City Hall remaining open. Additionally, policies such as having only 10 people in the room at a time and maintaining a six-foot-distance between each person are being employed.

According to Jones, the MOA Election Center has already received 22,504 ballot envelopes as of March 27. Ballot packages were mailed to qualifying Anchorage residents in Mid-March, and workers have opened many of those envelopes already, but it's important that the group stays up with the many ballots coming in, she said.

About 95 percent of the election workforce decided not to participate this year, but the election center will include about 20 people working on ballots. They are all required to wear gloves, extra cleaning supplies have been provided along with a more aggressive cleaning schedule, and disposable items such as plates and cups are being made available so there's no risk of dirtied dishes being shared.

"That seems trivial, but that would be unfortunate if somebody didn't get their dishes washed well and passed (a virus)," Jones said.

Masks are not required for workers, though election systems are considered critical infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security did not recommend masks, Jones said, and they are personal protective equipment that healthcare workers need, so the group of about 20 at the election center won't be required to wear them.

Only essential personnel will be allowed into that building, and the usual election central events, which often include meet and greets with candidates, have been cancelled.

"We know what we're doing," Jones said, "and we have the support of our community and a great bunch of workers down here. So I think we'll be okay."

To return your ballot, you can bring your envelope to a secure drop box, a list of which can be viewed here; or you may return your ballot by mail at a U.S. Post Office. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by April 7, 2020. Keep in mind that mail put into the post is not always postmarked the same day.

For more information, you may call (907) 243-VOTE.

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